I’ve been preparing for this Sunday’s worship, which will feature the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were Jews contracted by the Roman government to extract “tolls” from their fellow Jews. The tax collector was expected to reach a quota to satisfy the governor. Anything else was his to keep. If necessary, Roman force was utilized to procure the tax.
When Jesus happens by and gets face to face with Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus not only vows to change his ways, he vows to repay what he has fraudulently extracted from his own people. He serves a self-imposed penance.
The first time I understood penance was watching The Mission which is about colonial South America. Robert DeNiro plays a slave trader/mercenary who murders his brother. Jeremy Irons plays a Jesuit priest who is ministering to the indigenous tribes above the falls. Jeremy Irons takes DeNiro above the falls to meet the people he has traded as slaves. On the trek up the mountain, DeNiro hauls his mercenary gear, swords, armor, etc. It makes the trip very long and troubling for the other priests. They get to the top, and an indigenous warrior cuts the rope carrying DeNiro’s gear. DeNiro is forgiven. He cries. He’s received by the tribe as well as the brotherhood of Jesuits. The scandal of grace rears its beautiful head.
Jesus’ intervention can be too easily seen merely as a reclaiming of a ‘son of Abraham’. It also cost the Romans a bundle of money. Jesus’ ministry now is a matter of governmental concern, as fruitful ministry often does.
So, what then about the recent bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan? Doctors Without Borders has decided to stop ministering to the war-ravaged in that area. My country did that. Apologies have been formulated. But that’s not good enough.
What then is a fitting penance for my nation regarding this bombing? And what’s my share of it?